The holidays can be a frenetic time, and, when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, this ostensibly joyous season can also be fraught with frustration, stress, and anxiety. To avoid an emotional and logistical quagmire, plan ahead.
For those with Alzheimer’s, “a big family dinner with a lot of people” can be frustrating, says Alice Feintuch, LMSW, director of the Phoenix Program at Willow Towers Assisted Living at United Hebrew of New Rochelle. Your loved one may become quiet and retreat from a conversation if he or she is agitated. If your loved one becomes distressed, “make sure there’s a quiet room that Grandma or Grandpa can go to,” advises Feintuch.
Because the holidays center so much on families and family memories, they can be especially daunting and stressful for people with Alzheimer’s. “You cannot force your loved one to remember,” says Feintuch. “You can talk about family members and past events, but don’t ask, ‘Do you remember…?’ Go along with whatever the person believes and try to be in the moment along with them.”
Holiday gatherings can be difficult for friends and family of a person with Alzheimer’s, too, especially if the friend or relative has not seen your loved one in a long time or is not familiar with the features of the disease. Don’t exclude the person from conversation, but, says Feintuch, “Remind family members not to ask demanding questions. Suggest they introduce themselves to ease the anxiety of a loved one who may be embarrassed at not remembering.”
The most important thing is to be patient, says Feintuch. “You could say to little kids, ‘Grandpa is having a little difficulty remembering things today, so let’s try to help him.’ And don’t take it personally if a parent or spouse doesn’t remember you. They sense you, and they see you. They may not know that you’re their daughter, for instance, but they know that you are someone they love. You can always see the light in their eyes. Some part of them still does remember.”